Papa John’s aims for better days in first TV spot featuring Shaq
Get ready for Papa John’s Shaq Attack.
The pizza chain is showcasing Shaquille O’Neal and a new rallying cry, “better day,” in its first TV campaign featuring the former NBA star.
In the spots, O’Neal is the one voicing Papa John’s longtime “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza” slogan. For this campaign, “better day” is tacked onto the end (an oblique allusion to a few not-so-good days the chain had last year).
It’s the brand’s first major marketing push featuring O’Neal, who joined Papa John’s as a board member, franchisee and brand ambassador in March. It’s also Papa John’s first campaign from its new creative agency Camp & King.
In one of the first spots, O’Neal fires up staffers with high fives, hugs and a responsive cheer. “Who are we?” O’Neal asks in a booming tone. “Papa John’s,” the people gathered on multiple floors of the company’s Louisville headquarters respond. Later, O’Neal makes pizza, sits in a board meeting next to Papa John’s Chairman Jeffrey Smith, and brings pizza to kids all to the tune of Naughty By Nature's "Feel Me Flow."
“Obviously, Shaquille does a lot of endorsement work and we wanted this to be different than anything he’s done,” says Papa John’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Karlin Linhardt.
The pizza chain could use some better days after a long string of bleak ones, of course. Sales and the company’s share price slumped following founder John Schnatter’s comments criticizing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell regarding players' national anthem protests on a November 2017 investor call, and later took a dive after his use of the "n" word during a media training call was reported by Forbes in July 2018.
“The key to great brands is that when you’re having a few challenges you have customers who believe in the brand, they have an emotional connection,” says Linhardt, who previously worked at companies including McDonald’s and Subway. “In essence, ‘better day’ really reflected the spirit of the brand as it is and where we’re going.”
Papa John’s has distanced itself from the legacy of Schnatter, who often appeared in its ads. He’s no longer an executive with the company but remains its largest shareholder. The “Better Day” campaign comes about a year after the “Voices” campaign, which was done by Endeavor Global Marketing and focused on the stories of real-life Papa John’s franchisees and others at the company, and showcasing how pizza can bring people together. Now that O’Neal is on board, Papa John’s is leaning on him in a big way.
“Shaquille is the embodiment of that because he represents the pied piper of fun,” says Melissa Richards-Person, chief brand officer.
For now, the “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” slogan remains the same, without the permanent addition of “better day.”
“I think it remains to be seen what role it takes down the road,” Richards-Person says of “better day,” which she says came out of discussions with Camp & King.
Three ads, each featuring O’Neal, in different settings and backed by different music, will run during NFL and college football games, primetime and cable TV programming, with the first set to air during the NFL's season opener on Sept. 5. And, of course, the ads will air during NBA games once that season begins. “The emphasis is on reach,” Linhardt says of the media plan.
Along with the “better day” ads, the chain will continue to run some 15-second spots focused on the food itself. In August, Papa John’s said it planned to spend an additional $40 million on marketing, with about half to be spent in the second half of 2019 and the remainder earmarked for 2020.
“We are investing competitively to what we did in the past and with what our competitors are spending,” Linhardt says.
Pizza Hut, one of its main competitors, is out with new ads and a sweepstakes in its second season as the NFL sponsor. Pizza Hut's spots feature football players JuJu Smith-Schuster, Todd Gurley, Tyler Lockett and its most recently signed player, Aaron Donald. Pizza Hut is also the official sponsor of the Madden NFL 20 Championship Series.
Papa John’s works with Havas on media. Nimbus, its multicultural agency, helped build the partnership with O’Neal and with the execution of the campaign, Linhardt says.
The campaign, directed by filmmaker Amir Farhang with Hungry Man Productions, was shot with multiple camera crews, giving Papa John’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and other moments that didn’t make it into the ads that it can use elsewhere.
While the first ad focuses on O'Neal at the company's headquarters, other spots will show him in the restaurants and with customers. Some of the moments were included in a 60-second montage, which includes shots of O'Neal delivering pizzas, including from a bus labeled the Cruisin' Shaq-a-Roni, to unsuspecting diners, this time set to Bill Withers' "Lovely Day."